As one of DC Universe’s few original series at this time, “Harley Quinn” has definitely set itself apart. It has more in common with “Doom Patrol” than the other animated offerings, striking an extremely adult tone in terms of humor and violence, while also embracing its characters dark past. However, first season woes prevent it from being anything more than an extremely promising start to the series.
Kaley Cuoco (“The Big Bang Theory,” “8 Simple Rules”) leads a cast of actors who are mostly brand new to the Batman universe. Her Harley is far more sarcastic and exasperated with her life post Joker. She’s the most “modern” interpretation compared to the 90’s animated series, the “Arkham” video games, or Margot Robbie’s live action version. She’s sweet and cutthroat, willing to straddle the line between being a good person and a bad guy.
The rest of the cast is just as good. Lake Bell (“Children’s Hospital,” “In a World…”) is the standout, turning Poison Ivy from a slightly crazy scientist into an eco-conscious do-gooder constantly frustrated with people referring to her attempts to save the earth as terrorism. Alan Tudyk (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “Firefly”) pulls double duty as Clayface, interpreting the classically underrated villain as a wannabe Shakespearean actor, and Joker. His version of the clown prince is, like Harley, more modern than previous takes. He’s not above making jokes about Wi-Fi passwords or electric cars as he burns people’s faces off.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld,” “Duckman”) as the very Jewish robot landlord Sy Borgman, Ron Funches (“Trolls,” “Final Space”) as the lovable kind killer shark King Shark, Tony Hale (“Arrested Development,” “Toy Story 4”) as the misogynistic Doctor Psycho, J. B. Smoove (“Real Husband of Hollywood,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) as Ivy’s roommate/pet plant Frank, Matt Oberg (“Ugly Americans,” “Veep”) is an underutilized gem as Kiteman, and the only returning actor from previous Batman material, Diedrich Bader (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “Surf’s Up”) reprising his role of Batman from “Batman: The Brave & The Bold.”
The show’s raunchy and violent sense of humor are likely the biggest points of criticism and praise. If you’re not a fan of humor in shows like “Rick and Morty,” you won’t be a fan. However, it never goes as far as shows like “South Park,” and grounds most of its antics in the arcs of its characters. Numerous pop culture references feel at home in this world, as the creative team of Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey do a great job translating the more free-wheeling nature of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn comic series to the small screen.
It isn’t afraid to poke fun at the ridiculousness of its world in the same way that “The LEGO Batman Movie” did. B-tier villains and heroes are killed off left and right, Bane is seen as someone who constantly wants to blow things up over the tiniest infractions and Harley is constantly asking Batman if he screws bats. There are also some genius moments of re-characterizations, such as making Robin, played by Jacob Trembley, a whiny self-important brat, and the amazing casting Wayne Knight as the Penguin. This character-driven raunch helps when some of the later episodes turn to full-blown multi-part stories, forgoing a lot of the moment to moment humor.
However, that means that the middle of the season is the weakest. It follows more of the cliched plots seen in more sitcom-styled animated shows, like going inside someone’s mind to help deal with a traumatic memory or crashing a party to impress someone. It’s saved thanks to the very likable crew of motley misfits that Harley surrounds herself with and given that a large chunk of this season is dedicated to establishing a new status quo for Harley, it’s easy to see things going much bigger and broader in Season 2.
Same goes for the animation, as it seems to be the victim of a safer lower budget due to simply being the first season. While things move smoothly most of the time and the art style is a nice mixture between the comics line it’s based on and the 90’s animated series look, it has some rough edges. Fight scenes don’t always look equally good, with some flowing nicely and others feeling much stiffer. Explosions and blood spurts also have a weird effect to them, as if they were made to look like they were added later in post.
While what’s here is a good time, it’s clear that the focus was establishing groundwork to further expand the characters and show. What this results in is a first season that is a raunchy bloody good time but isn’t anything necessarily memorable at this point. It’s an immediate recommendation for any DC or Harley Quinn fan, and for those who’re interested otherwise, these first 13 episodes are absolutely worth a free trial. 3.5/5